Monday, November 30, 2009

What I've Learned This Week

Resume creating can be engrossing.
Changing design minutia is much more difficult on NeoOffice than Word.
Wedding photographers cost an arm and a leg.
That Seinfeld is hilarious, and that should have been obvious.
I'll always wish I took more writing, communication, and design courses.
That writing and creating is just as worthwhile, if only I did more regularly.
Waking up with a whizzing cough sucks.
CVS is open 24 hours.
Muppet Studios has been putting out viral videos for months.
These videos are call virmups.
They, and their name, are adorable.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Previously I wrote about my struggles with being honest and transparent as a teacher. Though I have not come much closer to figuring out that problem, I have come up with another problem about honesty, opinions, and being a teacher. This time instead of wondering how open I should be about my opinions, I am now wondering how open I should be about my feelings about student's opinion. Though this new problem is related, it has several different implications and problems.

As a teacher, and therefore a public role model, I should encourage acceptance of others and the ideas of others. Though this sounds obvious, what about when someone's opinion seems wrong or even damaging. Sure I cringed when some of my students aligned themselves with Rush Limbaugh, but I don't show that to my students. I make myself appear to be more open to different political beliefs than I really am.

Making a more extreme line of thought, what if one of my students was a Nazi? Sure this is one of those forced hypotheticals that typically get on my nerves (much like the common challenge to pacifism involving my family being attacked while a gun is in my hand), this issue has really attached itself to my brain. What if a student really thought through Nazism and decided it was a good idea. I'm not talking genocide, but I do mean a socialist government that supports itself monetarily by exported all non-whites, thus dramatically lowering the population size being cared for by the state.

Now I clearly do not like this student's beliefs, but how hard should I challenge this student if the issue is brought up in front of the rest of class. Where is the line between being honest about my opinions and seeking to be publicly open to different people and their beliefs. Put in simpler terms: on a spectrum of critically close minded to openly accepting of everything, where should I be placed in order to be the best example and role model that I can be. Also, is it good or bad for me to appear, to my students, to be elsewhere on this spectrum than I really am?

Well, now I know what to ponder over summer.


A few days back was the final exam for my last education course before student teaching. Though this post could easily degrade into a panicky diatribe about feeling unprepared, or rushed, etcetera, instead I would like to focus on one of the essay questions on the exam. The scenario posed essentially was that after teaching for several years, your school asks you to be part of a committee to review and reconstruct the guiding principles for your entire school, every department together. The question then is what two or three ideals or focuses do you advocate for?

The first principle was easy: critical thinking, something I have talked about here before. However the essay demanded at least one more. After some thought (we were given the questions ahead of the exam), I decided that a focus on local life would benefit students in all courses by making the content more assessable, applicable, and interesting.

Making local life a foundation of school could be done in several ways. First and foremost, through planned interactions with the community. This could include both field trips around town and also guest lectures from the area. This would instantly make content more interesting and meaningful by showing how it matters to students' hometown and also how it matters outside of academia. Focus could also be turned local in smaller ways such as framing questions and projects in a local perspective. Teaching grid coordinates? Use the mainstreets as your axis. Teaching about the New Deal? Find WPA projects that started around the area.

The biggest obstacle to locality is that it requires each teacher to be an informed and active member of the town. Despite the inherent appeal and logic that each and every teacher is a pillar of the community, this is often not the case. Though I'm not a teacher yet, I do know that as a student, getting outside of your bubble of peers can be quite difficult. Even after living in Goshen for three years I hardly know anything about the history of this town, and I a history major.

When thinking through this problem I believe that connections with the parents of your students would be the best way to encourage teacher awareness and attachment to their local communities. This would be effective and would simultaneously build rapport between the teacher and parents, and perhaps, the student.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unpartisan Role Model

My college is "dry." This is to say, there is no permitted consumption of alcohol. Something about this has always bugged me: it kills any dialog about responsible use. Like the abstinence only sex educator in High School, any talk about alcohol with administration or some faculty feels shallow and even, at times, fraudulent.

Currently I am in a government class at the High School and am trying very hard to remain nonpartisan in the way I present information, but it goes father than that. If students ask questions about my own beliefs, I dodge or reflect them. At every moment I try to give away my own beliefs as little as possible.

I feel this is important, as my role should be to facilitate their understanding of their own beliefs. At the same time though, I wonder if my lack of honest dialog is as obvious and awkward to them as the above mention situations are to me.

Couldn't I be honest about my beliefs and yet still present information in a nonpartisan way? Would not honest dialog about my own struggles with, and development of, my political beliefs help them understand what it means to be an active and caring public? But at the same time, the line is so fine. Once crossed would I be able to be nonpartisan, once the precedent is set would they accept going back to hearing the vanilla-flavor centrist perspective again? Or would they begin to constantly ask me about my personal take on each lesson? Also, as a role model would not my honesty still influence them, even if I did not try to actively convert them to my side of the political spectrum? Or am I even kidding myself that I would be that important to them, or even the fact that I am currently succeeding at my deception. How many of them know what I believe?

That really trick is that to know the answers to any of these questions requires honest dialog. And I'm not sure it would be appropriate.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spending Money on What Matters

This week my house was two dollars over in our budget for groceries. It was the dish soap that did it.

Though this might seem like nothing special, it sparked quite a bit of discussion among myself and the nine other people I live with. The conversation was started by those who were upset, who wanted to be under budget constantly in order to get some money back at the end of the year. Thankfully, this was quickly side stepped by those of us who felt the budget was to be met because, after all, the budget was what we were willing to spent. Besides, we've been under budget pretty much every other week. Therefore the discussion became about what to do with our surplus: would we buy fancier food, or would be buy organic food. I ended up siding on the organic side of things, but that was a gut reaction, I hadn't really thought it through at the time.

When thinking about my reaction, it really wasn't about organic food at all. Though I appreciate fresh produce; organic, non-bleached flour just doesn't mean much to me. In the end my decision was about where we would be buying the organic food: the local Co-Op. I've been a member of this place since moving to Goshen and was a regular member during the first two years of college, however buying for one is a lot cheaper than buying for ten and this year I've been using Kroger as my sole source of groceries. It was one of those changes I hadn't even noticed until I thought about it.

It all comes down to wanting to support a local business. It helps that I like food, and I like the store's style... and I know most of the employees. Since supporting the Co-Op more was such a no-brainer. I quickly started thinking about the other business I should frequent more. Spending time on this was quite mind opening because I realized how many great small businesses there are in Goshen: Better World Books, The County Seat, Universal Tamal, Il Forno, Southside Soda Shop... Ok, so I mostly just came up with food, but I can't help it, I buy what I like. Though I'm not sure if my more miserly housemates will join in with me or not, this thought process/experiment has really renewed my zest for supporting local businesses, because this place has such a special community, why wouldn't I want to support that?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jeans and Fit

As an adult I have never bought, or worn, jeans. The last pair I ever bought were freshman year of High School, and only to satisfy my mother. I was soon disappointed to learn that my mother's satisfaction was connected to me wearing the jeans and not simply buying them. We compromised with a plan to wear them during laundry day. This work for her because I'd wearing jeans a few times a month, and I was happy because by being able to wash all of my other pants, I'd be able to go longer without doing laundry.

My others pants were primarily khakis, though I guess nowadays they're called chinos, or maybe there's a difference and I just can't tell. Sure I had a few corduroys, but even those were a beige color. In retrospect, this must have made me stick out like a sore thumb. I grew up in middle class Virginia were denim was king. My childhood town's economy was centered around a Wrangler jeans factory.

This whole anti-jean thing could to painted as my teenage punk phase, but that would be far more dramatic than the truth. I was a pretty mild-manner, responsible teen. I went to a private, Christian school, I took ballet. My only real experience with punks would have been through my father's record collection and though Patti Smith's legs are rarely visible on her album covers, The Ramones are prominently wearing jeans on all of their albums.

So if I was rejecting the style of pants that everyone, including punk rockers, were wearing what was I doing? They say that the clothes make the man, but what men wear khakis all the time: soldiers. And that didn't line up because during these early High School years I was becoming more and more of a pacifist.

The more I thought about my lack of jeans, and less it all made sense. If I couldn't figure out why I had started my khaki phase then why was I staying in my denimless rut? During Christmas break I went shopping with two old friends in order to find a pair of jeans.

After several hours of shopping, I returned home, jeanless. My mother pursed her lips in an unsatisfied manner and asked if I had found a pair that had fit. I explained to her that yes I, or rather, my friend Jeff, had found a pair of jeans that fit me. They were dark wash, straight leg, and very expensive. My mother brushed this last comment aside by asking again if they fit. Reluctantly, I assured her that they fit. Unreluctantly, she explained to me how when a fitting pair of jeans is found, one must buy them. That's how it works. Partially biting my tongue, I told my mother how though the pair of jeans fit me, jeans in general just don't seem to mesh well with me. I don't like how they look and I wasn't going to spend that much money on pants I wasn't going to wear, even if they fit. Plus, in the hat kiosk in front of the store they were selling some gray driver's caps that were cheaper than the jeans, and reminded me of a lawyer I use to know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Handmade Pledge

Thinking of a topic for this last post on Democratic Principles has been difficult. Thus far I've talked about the importance of individual contribution to the whole, and the importance of the whole supporting all the individuals. I suppose what's left is individuals helping individuals. The trick is, wouldn't that be more anarchy and less democracy because then there is no whole? But then could that be seen as the democratic ideal? Just individuals contributing to each other, with no need to a governing body? I'm not sure, but we'll go with it for this post.

This Christmas I am buying only things created by individuals, a sort of handmade + indie pledge. I developed through this decision since last holiday season. I appreciate spending a little extra money to help out someone who has a small business, or no business. I like anything that decommercializes and personalized the holiday season. Shopping handmade feels like leaving a large tip at a restaurant, it uses a small amount of money to create a connection with a person and makes both of us feel better.

The trick is, what is handmade, what is indie? Sure something bought off of or Poppytalk is fine. Anything website with a handmade pledge patch is in the green. Ten Thousand Villages was an obvious yes. But what about, say Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? It was made on a very small budget, independently marketed, but at the same time in mentioned in tons of magazines and is sold through I ended up voting yay, but there was some unease over the decision. Still, the purchase made me feel as if there was a connection formed. Perhaps that was only because of the Dr. Horrible twitter feed or other things that feel so intimate despite being mass produced.

The Dr. Horrible purchase made me, however, question the whole handmade pledge. It made me look at the underlining hypocracy. Sure if feels like decommercializing, but it is still me purchasing products, even if I get a hand written note by a jeweler on etsy, but I still don't know her. The connection is weak at best and delusional at worst.

Then I listened to some Mates of State and Santogold and decided I needed to be less cynical and problematic. Shopping handmade is still shopping, but that's unavoidable and I might as well make the best out of the situation that is Christmas shopping.